American Horror Story Freak Show, S4E10: Orphans
Original Airdate: December 17, 2014
Recap by Sarabeth Pollock
Well, the dreaded Episode 10 has arrived. S4E10. If you’re new to the AHS franchise, Episode 10 marks a turn toward the end of the show, when all of the rules change, things you have held as sacred are torn apart, and anyone—anyone—could die at any moment. Now, we know from media reports that Lily Rabe is set to reprise her role in tonight’s episode, marking the second character crossover after Naomi Grossman’s Pepper.
And so it begins.
The beginning of the end.
Elsa starts out narrating what it’s like to lose one of the monsters. We see Salty and Pepper sleeping together. Only Salty isn’t sleeping. He’s dead. Paul gently explains that Salty is just a shell. She still clings to him.
Elsa tells Eve that she understands Pepper better than anyone. Most “pinheads,” she says, die before they’re 40. Salty died in his sleep, probably due to a stroke. But Pepper was with him until the end. Elsa tells Stanley that she tried to teach Salty with flashcards, but he couldn’t learn. Pepper could learn, though, and she did. Stanley tells Elsa that she is a woman besieged with worry. The telegram from the network executives has arrived that asks for her to rest so that she can be ready for the opening coming up in the schedule. While he says to rest, Elsa says that she must take care of Pepper. Stanley proposes that Salty be cremated, so that Pepper can keep him close to her. He wants to take care of the body. When Elsa acquiesces, we flash to a scene of Stanley “taking care of things.” He chops Salty’s head off, pausing to cast the ashes of his cigarette into an urn. Then we see Salty’s head on display next to Ma Petite in the museum.
Pepper is in Desiree’s lap listening to her read a bedtime story. Dell comes in and tells her that her rendition of the story will make her a great mom some day. Dell pulls her outside and says that she saved his life, and that he doesn’t want to give up on their relationship yet. Desiree tells him that she can’t make him happy, and that he needs to move on. She returns to Pepper and tells her that she will finish the story after the show. Pepper falls into a rage, throwing everything all over the tent. Desiree watches her until she’s finished, then she orders Pepper to clean up the tent while she’s gone.
Elsa invites Desiree for a drink. She explains that Pepper has only ever known abandonment her entire life, until Elsa found her. They toast. Desiree wants to know what happens when Elsa leaves for Hollywood. First Ma Petite, then Salty. Pepper will be beside herself when Elsa leaves. Elsa launches into a tale of the time when she came to America. It was Boston, 1936. Work was scarce all around. Elsa was in a gypsy camp, and then a carnival show. She was in a chorus line, but she needed to be in charge. Wartime was coming, and she had vision. With the boys going off to war, they needed entertainment. Come for the freaks, stay for the beautiful headliner. So Elsa went about collecting freaks, starting with an orphanage, since that’s where people throw away unwanted kids. There we see Pepper in a window, cradling a bundle in her arms. Elsa goes inside and sits down with Pepper, playing with her blocks. Pepper starts to play with her. She never knew her father, and her mother died. Her sister loved her but couldn’t care for her. She was 18 and alone, and she had the mind of a child, which made the adoption process easier since she was an adult. Pepper was Elsa’s first Monster. With Pepper, she felt unconditional love for the first time.
We see Pepper’s first performance, and Elsa knew from the start she was a keeper. As she collected monsters, she knew Pepper had needs as a woman. She could never breed, but her maternal instincts were strong. The answer arrived later, when the Maja Rajah came to the show with a young Ma Petite. Elsa wanted her, though the Maja Rajah would never part with his favorite pet. Elsa offers him a soda, and she ended up buying Ma Petite for three cases of Dr Pepper. With Ma Petite, Pepper had a new friend. Elsa had never seen her so happy, but she wanted more. She needed a spiritual husband. Eventually, an orphanage in Cincinnati wrote that they had another microcephalic. Soon Elsa was officiating a wedding between Salty and Pepper. It was a simple ceremony considering that they knew six words. Ma Petite was their child, and Elsa was the fairy godmother. Desiree feels horrible that Pepper is all alone in the world and has lost everyone. She suggests that they try to find her sister, that perhaps the sister will be able to handle her now. With a sad sigh, Elsa reasons that their little angel might need to leave.
Maggie is in her tent playing with a card that has Jimmy’s picture on it. She has been drinking. Desiree comes in with Angus. They want a reading. She tells Maggie that they met the night that she debuted her new tassles during the show. Indeed, we see Desiree swirling the tassles in the tent. Angus was sold. His days as a bachelor were numbered at that point. Maggie sees that he’s a salesman, which he confirms. She sees that he a romantic, a dreamer, out West with a big house and a picket fence. Maggie sees their love and she starts to fall apart. Eventually, she says, they will hate each other and things will go to shit. Maggie sinks back and says it all ends the same.
They leave her, and she ends up on the carousel alone. Desiree finds her and tells her that she is seeing her own dismal life. Maggie reveals that she’s not a fortune teller. She says that she and Stanley are business partners, that he isn’t a Hollywood producer. We see them back at their humble beginnings, when Maggie was a newsie and pickpocket. Stanley spots her in a hotel right before she gets arrested for theft and offers her a job. Desiree can’t believe her parents let her go off alone, but she had always been alone. Desiree wants to know what they want with the freaks. Maggie says that they were fleecing their customers. Maggie calls Desiree “Triple Tits” and stalks off, but Desiree catches up to her and says that things have been happening since they arrived, and if she finds out that they had anything to do with the recent deaths, she would come after them.
Maggie barges into the twins’ tent and lies on their bed. Bette offers her an envelope full of money, telling her that they had been saving up but now they want to use the money to hire a lawyer for Jimmy. Maggie scoffs at the idea, and Dot wants to punch her, but Bette urges her sister to let her handle Maggie. Maggie says that they are simple minded idiots, but Dot speaks up and says that Jimmy thinks she walks on water. Dot doesn’t see it. And the last thing they want is for Jimmy to end up like Meet. She will do right by Jimmy. They toss the money at her and leave.
Jimmy has a visitor. It’s Stanley. Jimmy isn’t thrilled to see him. Stanley says he lost his mother when he was young. He was an orphan and he got into trouble, but not Jimmy’s kind of trouble. He asks Jimmy if he did the crimes. Jimmy isn’t sure. He can’t remember. He’d had too much to drink and everything was black. He just can’t believe he killed them. Stanley doesn’t think he killed them, either. Stanley has found him a top-notch lawyer who will want a retainer. Jimmy doesn’t have any money. Stanley leaves, but he returns with an idea on how to raise the funds. He points at Jimmy’s hands.
Back at the camp, Desiree is preparing a feast. Maggie shows up and can’t believe she’s seeing Desiree trying to be Betty Crocker. Desiree hasn’t forgotten their conversation and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do with the information. Maggie pulls her into the tent and says that she wants to help Jimmy, but if they don’t act then every freak in the show is going to be dead soon. She needs Desiree’s help first before she can help Jimmy.
Elsa pays a visit to Pepper’s sister’s house. Pepper is sitting on the couch with a box of her belongings. They’re in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Rita, the sister, knew that she wouldn’t have had a chance at a real life if she had to take care of her sister. But she couldn’t have kids, so she’s alone now. Elsa tells her about the things that she taught Pepper, from caring for others to preparing Singapore Slings. But Rita doesn’t know what she’ll tell her husband. She must take Pepper in, Elsa says, because she will probably die of a broken heart if she doesn’t have someone who loves her. Rita goes off to prepare a room for her, muttering about how angry her husband will be. Pepper cries and begs Elsa to stay. Elsa tells her that she loves her and she will always be her family. She kisses Pepper and tells her that her sister will make mistakes but Pepper must forgive her because she is trying her best. Elsa leaves.
Maggie drags Desiree to the museum and shows her what Stanley has done. Desiree first sees Ma Petite, then she sees Salty’s head. All the while, the docent leads a tour and is about to reveal their newest acquisition: Lobster hands. Maggie realizes that they’re Jimmy’s hands, and she faints dead away.
Rita explains that she and her husband tried everything to take care of Pepper. We see that she’s talking to Sister Eunice. It’s 1962. Eunice asks for a reason for Pepper’s confinement. Rita says that she never thought she could have children but one night she went to the hospital and found out she was pregnant. She had a baby, but he was severely deformed. Pepper helped out while Rita was confined to bed. She mixed drinks and cared for the baby while Rita stayed in bed and drank. Larry came home and wanted Pepper to go downstairs with the baby. Soon, Rita says, Pepper was walking around naked. Eunice says that shock therapy, along with caning, helps with that. Rita says that Pepper had a killer instinct, though neither she nor her husband saw what happened. Rita was ready to go out to a party. She needs to get out because she has been stuck at home with Pepper and the baby that she never bonded with. They’re on the same page…they need to go. Larry has a plan. Rita asks Pepper to give the baby a bath, and she does so, lovingly. Larry shuts Pepper out of the room and while she tries to get back inside, the baby is dead. Rita says that Pepper snipped his ears off and drowned him. We see Pepper put into a straightjacket and taken away to Briarcliff. Rita made a good show of making it look like Pepper was guilty.
Pepper is taken to Briarcliff where Sister Eunice tells her that self-pity will do nothing. She says that what Pepper did was the most awful thing ever. But when she sees the tears in Pepper’s eyes, she thinks that it’s remorse. Pepper becomes her special project, and she takes her to the library and has her work to clean it up. Eunice is excited to think that Pepper might one day work in the bakery with her. Pepper finds a magazine with Elsa on it. She puts her hand on her cheek and kisses the magazine.
The caption from the 1958 issue reads TV’s Elsa Mars: She Still Owns Friday Nights.
Ah, Pepper. You will be missed.
American Horror Story Freakshow returns on January 7 with Neil Patrick Harris, and the return of Jamie Brewer.
Happy Holidays, everyone!